Manila: Moves to lower the age of criminal liability are being taken up in both chambers of the legislature upon orders by President Rodrigo Duterte.

According to Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Duterte had requested the House of Representatives to work for the immediate passage of a bill that will lower the age of criminal liability from 15 years to nine.

“The Justice Committee will tackle House Bill No. 505 filed by Rep. Victor Yap which seeks to amend Republic Act (RA) 10630 to lower the age of criminal liability of children nine years old and below. It has been pending with the Committee on Justice since July 27, 2016,” said Arroyo.

Young drug mules

Earlier, Duterte said the country’s current law on juvenile offenders, the Comprehensive Juvenile Justice and Welfare System Law of 2006, needs to be made more responsive as drug syndicates are using this law to go around restrictions covering young offenders.

“It is a short-sighted law. It acknowledged the social problem of juvenile delinquents but did not specify the measure in solving it,” Duterte earlier said.

When Senator Francis Pangilinan proposed the Juvenile Justice and Welfare System Law 12 years ago, the objective of the measure was to rehabilitate young offenders and not so much as punishing them for their misdeeds.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, in a press briefing on Monday, said they will prioritise the passage of a parallel measure in the Upper Chamber lowering the age of criminal liability, but said that personally, he favours that the threshold for the age of liability be fixed at 11.

Age of discernment

“Nine years old may be too young,” Sotto said, while at the same time adding that under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare System Law of 2006, the minimum “age of discernment” was below 18 years.

But the measure to lower the age of criminal liability may face rough sailing in the Senate despite Duterte’s move to push for it.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the proposal calls for “evidence-based to legislation.”

“It should be grounded on facts, supported by studies. Not on whims and unproven theories,” he said.

Senator Bam Aquino went as far as saying that lowering the age of criminal liability to nine years old is “immoral”.

Crazy, cruel, immoral

“The laws that we have now, maybe there’s room to tweak it, but to go this drastic to lower the age of criminal liability to nine is crazy, is cruel and to be honest, I think it’s immoral,” Aquino said

Earlier, the NGO the Save the Children Philippines (SCP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) opposed moves in Congress to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

“This will only push them [minor aged offenders] to further discrimination, abuse and eventually, into more anti-social behaviour,” SCP said.

Unicef for its part, likewise said it views plans to lower the criminal liability age with “deep concern.”

“The proposal goes against the letter and spirit of child rights,” it said, adding that data to support government assertions that children are responsible for the increase in crime rates committed in the Philippines is “lacking”.